An Affair to Remember at London Theatre Workshop

This tale of a family under stress is entertaining if exhausting, says Penny Flood

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This is the UK premier of A Catered Affair, a show with an interesting pedigree. Based on a book by Harvey Fierstein, it started out in the 1950s as a movie starring Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine and Debbie Reynolds. Then music was added by John Bucchino, and now Ray Rackham, Artistic Director of the London Theatre Workshop, has tweaked it and come up with this production that works well in this intimate space.

It’s an entertaining, if emotionally exhausting evening, with strong performances and lovely songs.

It’s a story of broken hearts, broken dreams and hope in the Hurley family. Aggie and Tom Hurley (Maggie Robson and Howard Samuels) have an only daughter, Janey (the delightful Aimee Gray) who wants to get married quickly in a simple, fuss free, civil ceremony.

Her plans are thwarted by her mother who wants her to have the big white wedding with a showy reception (the catered affair of the title), that she didn’t have when she got married, and which they can’t afford. A situation made worse by Ralph (Calum Melville), the boyfriend’s parents (Judith Street and Dudley Rogers) who are very comfortably off.

Add to this a dead son, Janey’s brother, who died in the war, and you have a family under stress.

As well as the main plot there’s an intriguing sub plot about Tom’s new cab, but the plot’s not really what matters here, this is a drama about emotions and a family at the crossroads.

Stuck in a loveless marriage, Aggie and Tom have muddled along without really communicating for a long time, but now decisions have to be made and they’ve got to start talking to each other and face up to things. As they do the feelings that have been suppressed for years bubble to the surface and things are said. Bitterness, disappointment, hurt, grief and, in spite of everything, love. It’s all there.

But it’s not all introspection and soul searching, there’s humour too, in the shape of three women in hairnets (Ellen Verenieks, Judith Street and Bryony Growdon) who pop up from time to time, a sort of Greek Chorus, to hang out the washing and gossip. They’ve even got their own songs, ‘Women Chatter’ and ‘Women Chatter 2’.

More light relief comes from the frequently drunk Uncle Winston (David Anthony), who lodges in Tom and Aggie’s sitting room, he’s particularly funny in one scene as he helps Aggie sort out a caterer. But as devil-may-care as he first appears, the fraught situation in the home causes him to take stock of his own life and face up to a few things.

The songs come along to emphasise particular points in the story. As with ‘Ralph and Me’, a Janey solo, ‘Our Only Daughter’, an Aggie solo, and the touching duet ‘One White Dress’ by Janey and Aggie. The most affecting of them all however is Tom’s rendering of the beautiful and poignant ‘I Stayed’, which comes as a bit of a surprise as up until then Tom had appeared monosyllabic and grumpy.

The music is provided by a small band comprised of a violin, a viola, a cello, a flute and a piano, directed by David Keefe. Sometimes the music was a little bit overpowering for such a small space, but I didn’t feel it detracted from the songs. I was there on the second night so this might have been sorted out by the time you see it.

A Catered Affair continues until June 20, and tickets priced £15, £12 concessions, are available on the door, or online at the website, London Theatre Workshop.

London Theatre Workshop, 65 New Kings Road, SW6
Time: Tuesday to Saturday at 8.pm, with Saturday matinees at 4pm
Box Office: London Theatre Workshop

 

June 11, 2014